ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP)- Maryland voters will return to casting ballots on paper starting with the presidential election in 2016, election officials said Thursday, adding it to the long list of states that use paper ballots or a blend of paper and digital formats.
On Thursday, state lawmakers were given a sneak peek of the new paper voting machines that will be set up in polling centers for the 2016 election. Officials also briefed the legislators on lessons learned from the last election in November. The state has used digital voting machines for the past decade.
"We're going to have a million more voters in 2016, although we've made some changes this additional volume is going to put stress on the administration of elections," said John Willis, principal investigator for the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center for Public Policy.
Wills, whose center studied the 2014 Maryland election for state officials and helped provide the briefing, added: "We need to prepare for that."
According to the center's study, about 1.7 million registered voters participated in the 2014 election.
The Maryland Board of Elections' state administrator, Linda Lamone, said the coming year will be spent preparing polling center volunteers and educating voters.
Lamone said the General Assembly was given the go-ahead for the paper system in 2007, but only received funding for the switch last year. The cost to lease the machines alone is roughly $25 million, but that does not include additional costs such as storage and transportation of the units before and on Election Day.
She said one of the reasons for the mandate was that lawmakers "felt that it was safer" to have a paper record of every vote cast.
In an email to the Associated Press, Pamela Smith, president of non-profit Verified Voting, which advocates for accuracy and transparency in elections, said Maryland isn't the first state to return to paper ballots.
"Paper ballots provide a reliable mechanism for the polling place, insofar as when equipment breaks down, voters can still mark those ballots," she said.
As of November 2014, according to Verified Voting only six states including Maryland do not have some form of paper ballot system or hardcopy record. The others are New Jersey, Delaware, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana.
Lamone said her team is also working on filling in gaps between the new voting system and the current internal election management database. She said that system does everything from processing candidate information to compiling ballots to the declaring of a winner.
"Now we have to interface with the new voting system, and we're going to have to build some interfaces to close those gaps."
That includes factoring in the Baltimore City elections, which for the first time will be held during the presidential primary.
Lamone said the hope is to get enough funding for a whole new management system for the 2018 election.
"We've got to find the money somewhere," she said. " ... If we don't, I think that's a big risk."